For this installment of Behind the Stationery, I’m thrilled to bring you a former fellow Brooklynite, Katie Gastley of Idlewild Co. on the blog sharing about her first wholesale order, what prompted a transition to a Florida office, and how she hand paints every design (!) that Idlewild produces. Cheers and take it away, Katie! –Megan
Ever since I can remember, I have always loved making things. Anything. Be it paintings, jewelry, ceramics, recipes, I’m in my prime when I’m creating. I moved from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn in 2002 to attend Pratt Institute, an Art and Architecture school focused on building a core fine art foundation; quite literally the perfect school for me! While refining all of my technical design skills that I use today to manufacture Idlewild Co.’s various products, I was also able to keep painting; something I found as more of a necessity to how I function rather than a hobby.
Upon graduation, I worked in various print and web design fields and built a small Etsy business on the side selling prints of my original paintings. I exhibited in my free time, selling my art prints in cafes and at various NYC craft festivals. One of my friends from college invited me to see her booth at the National Stationery Show; when I walked into the Javits Center and saw rows and rows of mega-creative-talent, and they were predominantly women-owned business… I was hyped! I knew I had found something special, and all of a sudden the direction of my side-business became a very focused goal. I was going to form a small collection of greeting cards, and apply for next year’s show.
At the time, I was working as a designer at Martha Stewart, another business run by smart and creative women (there’s a theme here…) and my nights were spent painting, printing, and packaging a small range of greeting cards and hand-bound notebooks to debut at the show. I knew a bit about selling through my experience at the local shows in New York, but figuring out my pricing and policies took quite a lot of work at the beginning.
I started the first batch of production with the only savings I had, and away I went to my first National Stationery Show booth built with the help of family and friends. My literal first sale was almost a disaster as I unknowingly applied NY State sales tax to a wholesale order. (Disclaimer: That is NOT how it works, but I was so thoroughly traumatized by the process of applying for a State Tax ID and wrapping my brain around its rules and guidelines, I was more than willing to hand over more than my fair share of taxes. Well, times have changed on that matter, my friend!) My buyer looked at me like I was an idiot and shared words that will probably forever echo in my mind: “Um, wholesale orders DO NOT pay tax.” Yeah, ok. Very shaky, but I had made my first sale, and it was quite a large one. Thankfully she looked past my rookie mistake – and they are still a current reseller of ours!
Running my business during the weekends out of my Brooklyn apartment became more and more difficult to manage during my already 50-hour long work week. I knew a change was in sight. It wasn’t possible to manage quitting my full-time job and running a hardly-profitable small business in the most expensive/greatest city in America, so my fiancé and I moved to the next-best place: the beach. He grew up in a small town on the Atlantic coast in Florida, and I was able to focus entirely on building my business.
Progress was slow but steady and I was eventually able to afford a separate studio, then part time employees, and finally a full-time manager to oversee our wholesale partnerships, and studio manager to oversee our order fulfillment and inventory. With each step of growth I was able to allocate a little bit of the day-to-day “business” responsibilities to my employees, and devote more of my own time to creating new designs and prototyping new product categories.
All of the designs at Idlewild Co. are created using my hand-painted artwork. Beginning with a sketch idea, I paint the final artwork and hand-lettering before scanning everything into the computer where any necessary tweaks are made, from color correcting to layout revising. After dropping the final artwork into specified mechanical files, they’re passed onto our local print partners for production. Most of our products contain a lot of color, so we use offset printing methods for the majority of our line. This gives us unlimited color options on press, which is important when replicating paintings.
We don’t have the bandwidth or physical space to print our products in-house, so it’s absolutely necessary (and invaluable) for us to have a local printer we can work hand-in-hand with on our particular method of production. After the items have been printed and trimmed to their respective specifications, the final pieces are returned to our studio for packaging and finishing – and eventually fulfillment via our retail website or wholesale distributions.
Currently, we’ve been expanding our line to include gift and accessory items; still based on our hand painted art. We’ve recently debuted our pen collections and enamel keychains, and are enjoying the challenge of working out the tricky details of manufacturing once you move to a 3-dimensional model. We’re currently in the process of planning a suite of notebooks that will debut at NYNOW in January.
It has now been 3 years since I moved from Brooklyn, and I’m thrilled at the company Idlewild has become. A never-ending creative outlet for my maker-focused mind, haven, and collaborative hub for local artists, and perhaps what I’m most proud of: a woman-owned and women-operated small business. The team of “Idle-Ladies” I have the pleasure of working with keep our engines running smoothly, wholesale orders processed efficiently, products packaged beautifully, and orders shipped timely. We’ll keep making cards for as long as people enjoy sending them!
All photos by Idlewild Co.
OH MAN I remember getting almost the exact same response when I put sales tax on one of my first wholesale orders! ACK!
I absolutely love reading how other stationery wholesalers got their start and love to see the progression shared here. Thank you so much for this column!
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